Where the Heck Wednesday: Matt Phillips

This week it’s the turn of crime writer Matt Phillips, whose latest book is set in a remote part of North America… which sounds wild, atmospheric, and perfect for a little noir!

Book title: The Bad Kind of Lucky

Setting: Baja California (Mexico)

Author: Matt Phillips

http://www.MattPhillipsWriter.com

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They call Baja California…The Last Great Road Trip. And I have to tell you: It is.

A couple years back I had the fortune of piling in the SUV with my soon-to-be wife and rolling through San Diego into Tijuana. We made a wild right hand turn and plummeted southward, stopping only for perrones in Rosarito Beach (if you don’t know what those are, look them up) and fish tacos in Ensenada. Mostly, we sucked in the sea air and swerved to miss oncoming big rigs full of mangos and grapes. At some point, we turned westward onto a dirt road. A few miles later and we were camped on a bluff overlooking the sea, a field of brussels sprouts sprawled behind us. Need a camping spot in Baja? Just find the nearest beach and set up shop.

My latest book, The Bad Kind of Lucky, follows a low-level gangster and his newfound cronie into Baja as they search for a woman, some money, and a stolen car. I chose Baja as the setting because—and I’m being honest here—if I had to run from somebody or something, Baja is where I’d run to.

After our first night camped on the sea, we four-wheeled south and eventually hit the two lane highway that runs down Baja. Still farther south we found pulpo (Octopus) smothered in salsa, fresh fruit, tacos al pastor, and enough tequila and cerveza to tranquilize a horse. Between searches of our car by Federales and odd looks in the many tiny towns, we ended up on another beach—this one on the Gulf of California. Above us, spelled out with stones on a hill, were the words ‘La Gringa.’ We camped right on the gulf and it might have been the quietest sleep I ever had. From there, we hit the old mining town of Santa Rosalia, the tiny streets of Mulegé, and the clear waters of Coyote Beach. We somehow managed La Paz—where we saw two hoteliers duke it out in the dusty streets—and eventually Los Cabos. We four-wheeled northeast along the crashing surf and scuba spots, hunted tacos and tequila, roamed small, nameless towns, and generally prayed for our tires to hold up (they did).

I’ll spare you details of the journey north. It was much the same…Adventure, adventure, ADVENTURE.

A journey for us to know and you to find out.

The highway through Baja is often desolate, treacherous…But it’s also a road that leads to and through wonder.

It is—I promise—The Last Great Road Trip.

I’ll tell you that the characters in The Bad Kind of Lucky don’t get very far, but they get far enough to give you a taste of Baja. Trust me, you’ll like it. And if you don’t, we’ll do what they do in Tijuana—we’ll put an arm under your neck, tilt your chin, and pour the nectar of the gods (tequila) straight down your throat.

Here…Go on…Have a read. And a journey.

***

What a fascinating place! If that’s whetted your appetites, you can find out more about Matt’s book here.

 

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That Voodoo That You Do

AR-180318931What do Blazing Saddles, Voodoo and knitting needles have in common? Quick answer – they all feature in my latest short story, which is currently darkening the pages of Punk Noir magazine.

‘That Voodoo That You Do’ is a tongue in cheek earlier episode or ‘missing scene’ from ‘Gravy Train’ which might help to explain some of the antagonism between Ballsy McBollockface and the unfortunate Bradley. It was inspired (if that’s the right word) by the wonderful Hedy Lamarr remark in Blazing Saddles, and by a rather left-of-field conversation I recently had with my Other Half.

You can find the story at Punk Noir magazine now. I hope you like it, and that it’ll whet your appetite for more of the same humour in the rest of the novel, which is due out in less than two weeks’ time. And that it won’t put you off watching such a classic film ever again.

Gravy Train has a web page

pre_order_posterA quick update today: I’ve created a standalone web page for my novel ‘Gravy Train’. It has the full blurb, some nice quotes from lucky (or otherwise!) people who’ve read the book, a few links to articles and interviews, and best of all, an excerpt so you can ‘try before you buy’.

I do hope you’ll shunt over to my website and take a quick look. Don’t forget – the book is already available to pre-order, and will be out ‘for real’ exactly two weeks today.

Where the heck Wednesday: Tess Makovesky

Great news everyone, the semi-regular Wednesday feature is back, with some fascinating guests planned over the next few months. And I’m kick-starting it with a quick look at myself, because I realised I never took that opportunity last time round. So, without further ado, let’s stoke the engines, release the brakes, and let the ‘Gravy Train’ steam into town…

Book Title: Gravy Train

Setting: Birmingham (UK)

Author: Tess Makovesky

http://www.tessmakovesky.com / Facebook / Twitter

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So, why pick Birmingham as a location, I hear you ask? After all, it’s the dullest place on earth – nothing but Spaghetti Junction, motorways, factories, and endless 1960s concrete.

Well, no, actually. Birmingham is the UK’s second city – and quite probably the one with the least-deserved reputation. There is concrete (show me a British city without the stuff), but there’s also so much more. The tightly-packed city centre is a wonderful assortment of old and new, with everything from the gleamingly modern Grand Central station/shopping mall to the Town Hall, designed by the same bloke who came up with the Hansom cab.

Beyond that there are swathes of Victorian and Edwardian suburbs, scattered with gems from earlier times: churches, medieval manor houses, a mill that made it into The Lord of the Rings, even an ancient pub or two. And then – pure joy for crime writers like myself – there are the maze-like back streets, the vast parks, and best of all the canals. Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice; they stitch the industrial towns of the Black Country together and form their own pasta-like sprawl across the landscape. There are canal-feeder reservoirs, bridges, tunnels; there are places where one whole canal system goes over or under another; there are entire sections in the city centre that are almost lost, and only reappear as ghostly imprints in the canyons between office blocks every now and again.

When I lived in Birmingham I found it hard to write about the city. There was a sense of it being a comfortable place to call home, rather like an old pair of slippers, and it was hard to see past that to view the place objectively. However, once I moved away the over-familiarity wore off and I began to set more of my stories and books there. ‘Wheel Man’ in the Drag Noir anthology from Fox Spirit Books uses the suburb of Acocks Green. My novella ‘Raise the Blade’ is set in various locations including the well-hidden Edgbaston Reservoir and Highgate park. ‘Gravy Train’ starts and terminates in the inner city district of Hockley (home of the world famous Jewellery Quarter) but stops off at Cannon Hill Park, the leafy suburb of Moseley, and Broad Street’s “entertainment quarter” along the way.

And, oh, those canals. The Worcester & Birmingham branch has a body fished out of it in ‘Raise the Blade’. And ‘Gravy Train’ makes equally good use of them, for all sorts of nefarious purposes. The old Gas Street basin, originally used for turning narrowboats around, gains a new function as a handy dumping ground for incriminating evidence. And when crime bosses George Leary and Vernon Ball set up a meeting to hand over some stolen cash, it’s the basin they choose, with all sorts of unexpected consequences.

I had a lot of fun writing about the various locations, and more fun re-visiting them recently to take lots of photographs. I’ll be posting those on my blog over the next few weeks and months, but in the meantime if you’d like to find out more about Birmingham, then take the train. Just please make sure it’s the ‘Gravy Train’!

A cook book for cannibals?

skinbonesOdd as it may sound, yes – I really do have a story in a brand new anthology with a cannibal theme. The book, ‘Skin & Bones’, edited by fellow noir author Dana Kabel, contains stories by no fewer than twenty one crime and noir writers on this rather grisly (or should that be gristly?) subject matter.

My own offering is called ‘Rabbit Stew’ and is based around an old World War 2 joke that my Mum first told me when I was about eight years old. It involves a restaurant owner, wartime rationing, and the wonderful last line “Fifty-fifty, gov, one horse, one rabbit.” Aged eight, I had to have ‘fifty-fifty’ explained to me. Once I got it, I couldn’t stop giggling and it’s become a family joke about the general silliness of statistics.

And now it’s given me the inspiration for a story about an environmental health inspector investigating a ‘greasy spoon’ café and getting a great deal more than he bargained for. It’s gruesome, it’s ghastly, but I’m hoping it’s also funny and perhaps carries an additional message about not sticking your nose in where it’s not wanted unless you have a sure-fire means of escape!

‘Skin & Bones’ is available for pre-order right now and hits your kitchens and dining tables on the 26th November. So grab a plate, a knife and a fork and prepare to tuck in – and don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Crime Fiction News Break

mikrofonTo my shame, I’ve only just discovered that Margot Kinberg puts out regular monthly crime fiction news podcasts on her own YouTube channel. For those of you who don’t know her, Margot is something of a specialist in crime fiction with an impressive, even encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre – and she also writes murder mystery books in her spare time.

The latest installment of Crime Fiction News Break includes details of recent winners of the well known Golden Dagger awards, information about Scandi Noir, and a nice ‘plug’ for my own forthcoming book, ‘Gravy Train’. I’m honoured to have been mentioned in such great company.

To hear Margot’s November podcast for yourselves, head to YouTube. And don’t forget to check out her previous broadcasts which are full of interesting nuggets about the world of crime fiction.

 

Bang to Rights

footballsIt’s all happening at the moment. Yesterday a new interview, today a brand new story – and it’s in a brand new magazine!

Paul D Brazill has set up Punk Noir partly to help fill the gap left by the demise of the brilliant and much-missed Pulp Metal Magazine, and he’s busy stuffing it with news, reviews, articles and fiction, all on the theme of noir. And I’m lucky enough to have a story up there in the first few days.

‘Bang to Rights’ is a taut little tale about an ex-soldier down on her luck, who’s helping out some young animal liberationists in her spare time – and regretting it. When the inappropriately-named Merry pours scorn on her for not being ‘one of us’, Jacks decides to get revenge. But it may not be in the way you expect…

You can read the story here – and don’t forget to take the time for a good poke round the magazine. There’s already some terrific stuff available there.

Vital Crime Fiction

Just swooping in to announce that I have an interview up at fellow crime writer Matt Phillips’ blog today.

He asked some decidedly soul-searching, even hair-hurting, but fun questions which really made me think. So to find out more about my grandma’s secret stash of crime fiction, or why I write so many revenge stories – or just to learn more about my soon-to-be-published noir novel ‘Gravy Train’ – head to Matt’s blog now. I hope you enjoy the read.

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ps if you like what you hear about ‘Gravy Train’, don’t forget it’s currently available for pre-order and will be on sale 30th November…

What’s in a name?

namegenQuite a bit, actually, when it comes to characters. I find naming my characters a really important stage in their development. Without the right name they’re just shapes on the page, faceless and lacking in personality. But the right moniker helps define their age, their background, their social status – and suddenly they’re real people. But the process isn’t always as easy as you might think.

Take barmaid Sandra in ‘Gravy Train’, for instance. She actually started out life with a different name, and it seemed to be working okay. But then I had a disagreement with a friend who just happened to have that name and although it was pure coincidence, I didn’t want the friend to think I was trying to get my own back. So I changed the name to something fairly similar, and Sandra was born. And in the end, she’s worked better as Sandra than she ever would with her previous name, so I’m really happy I made the change.

Now I’m having a similar problem with one of the characters in my current work in progress, ‘Embers of Bridges’. I first wrote the book years ago, but it’s been languishing on a shelf or stuck in an endless loop of rewrites ever since, and it’s only recently that I’ve gone back to it in a serious way. When I first wrote it, the two miscreants who form the basis of the story were called Mickey and George, and I’ve stayed with those names even though pretty much everything around them has changed. But now ‘Gravy Train’ is being published, and there’s a fairly important character called George in that. And if I’m lucky enough to get ‘Embers’ published too, it could lead to confusion. Is it the same character? But how come he’s younger? Does that mean the book’s set longer ago? Readers don’t need to waste their valuable time on that sort of bafflement, so George will have to mutate into something else.

The problem is that where Sandra had only existed in her other form for a matter of weeks, in George’s case he’s had that name for years. I’m so used to him as George that it’s hard to think of him as anything else. I have now come up with an alternative that I think will work just as well – but I’m having trouble convincing my own brain to make the change. Whenever I start to write him as Carl, I find he’s reverted to George within a page or two, or sometimes only a paragraph or two. I think I’m going to have to write the whole book with him as George, and only go back and flip him to Carl in ‘search and replace’ once it’s done.

It’s lucky that modern technology makes this relatively straightforward, but I’m wondering if other writers have a similar problem – and whether you’ve found any easy ways of getting around it…

Pre-order Gravy Train

pre_order_poster_plainExciting news this week – my debut crime novel ‘Gravy Train’ is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Wanna find out why seven different people are chasing a bag of money round the back streets of Birmingham? Wanna know how far they’d go for £80,000? Then shunt your engine over to Amazon and stake your claim – before this particular gravy train runs off the rails!

You can find the book on both Amazon UK and Amazon US. Why not make one of them your “next station stop”?

Fantastically creepy…

Raise the Blade FrontI’ve only just spotted this super new review of ‘Raise the Blade’ on Amazon, but it certainly made my day.

Many thanks to the lovely Kerry Parsons for posting it. It’s always a bonus when readers enjoy a book I’ve written this much.

Do pop along and check out the review for yourselves – and don’t forget that the book is available for as little as 99p (Kindle version) or £4.99 (paperback) if you’d like to try it too.

City of Tiny Lights review

citylights

This is an interesting British crime/noir movie from BBC Films which I downloaded simply ages ago but have only just got around to watching.

The story is a fairly standard one: a hard-living private detective in London is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young Russian prostitute, in a case that has links to drugs, terrorism, a property scam – and a terrible event from his own past. In the process he’s reunited with an old flame, now something of a femme fatale, who helps him but also stirs memories that might best be forgotten.

So far, so noir formula, but this has one distinction – the PI is Asian, and most of the action takes place within the British Asian community. The property scam involves an old school friend; the terrorism centres around the local mosque. And the PI’s own father (a wonderful turn from Roshan Seth, reprising his ‘bonkers Dad’ role from My Beautiful Laundrette) has a pivotal role to play.

I enjoyed the film, with certain reservations. Riz Ahmed is cracking in the central role of hard-drinking, chain-smoking PI Tommy Akhtar, and Billie Piper lends star power as femme fatale Shelley. The back streets of London make a moody backdrop for the action, and there’s some clever nods to modern culture and the place of Islam in British society, alongside the more Chandler-esque elements. However, there are far too many flashbacks to Tommy’s childhood, with young actors who bear too little resemblance to their adult selves, which becomes confusing. And there’s too much reliance on Tommy knocking back shot after shot of whiskey, and lighting up cigarette after cigarette. This is presumably to show how dysfunctional he is – but it happened so often that it started to get in the way of the action.

But my biggest worry, which poked me from time to time during the film and then sat up and shrieked at me once I’d switched off, was the uneasy feeling that deep down, this is an unpleasantly stereotypical portrayal of the Asian community. The hero is a westernised lapsed Muslim who drinks, smokes and dates white women. The heroine is pretty – and white. Most of the other Asian characters are either slimy con artists or wild-eyed fundamentalist terrorists plotting to overthrow nasty western society. And the book the film is based on was written by a non-Asian British bloke. I’m hoping any negativity was unintentional, but the anti-Muslim, pro-western sentiments were blatant enough to make me thoroughly uncomfortable – and I’m white. It’s a shame, because a more balanced approach could have added tension, and made the film more intelligent – and much more interesting. As it is, I probably won’t bother watching it again.